Posted By Caitlin Mateer, RN, Project HOPE volunteer on Pacific Partnership 2015 on July 29, 2015

Labels: Papua New Guinea , Alumni, Volunteers

Volunteer Caitlin Mateer with baby recovering from cleft lip surgery in Papua New Guinea

Since joining the Pacific Partnership 2015 mission, I have focused most of my efforts taking care of children before and after surgical procedures. Last week I took care of a baby boy who was recovering from a surgery that fixed his cleft lip.

When a child is in utero and the face is developing, sometimes the lip and palate do not form properly, leaving the child with what looks like a gap in his or her top lip. This is referred to as a cleft lip or cleft palate. You can imagine how such an abnormality could severely and negatively affect a baby's quality of life. So I was glad to be a part of the life-changing team that would fix this abnormality forever. A cleft lip or cleft palate is a relatively common birth defect around the world. However most of us rarely witness it, because in the developed world it usually gets fixed quite early in life.            

Unfortunately for this boy, who lives in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, this surgery was not available. Consequently, for the first three months of life, he was unable to breastfeed or drink from a bottle. As a result, the boy is severely underweight, despite his family's best efforts to feed him with a spoon. Spoon-feeding is an exhausting process for a newborn, requiring exertion for which the boy did not have the energy to spend. A typical feeding for him was unsatisfying and insufficient. It was wonderful to see the immediate results of the surgery when his lip was repaired. We taught him to take a special type of nipple on a bottle, and the first time he was offered the bottle he took to it with no issues and drank a full 200ml! He then slept for an hour and wanted another bottle.

It was a very special experience to witness the dramatic difference made in this boy’s life, and I am very glad to be a part of the incredible team working to make that difference in as many children's lives as possible on Pacific Partnership 2015.

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